A year in review: learnings & un-learnings of 2016

On a personal level, this year was pretty great. I re-established healthy habits that nourished a meaningful balance between school, work, As We Are, and personal relationships. I slept more, read more books, and enjoyed more coffee chats with strangers turned good friends. I re-evaluated my physical limitations, and after much trial and error (and some pain) I started exercising regularly for the first time in two years (!!). I realized independence when I studied in the UK and travelled around Europe, when I got my drivers license, and when I started taking ownership of my choices as a consumer.

I took myself less seriously and more curiously. I learned that saying “no” to one opportunity actually created space to say “yes” to other opportunities that were more aligned with my ambitions.

These were the highlights of the year. In hindsight, even the supposed problems that I encountered were often privileged, and they were better viewed as prime occasions for self-reflection.

However, like many others, this year I was also met with moments of heaviness, confusion, exhaustion, and fear. I was met with guilt in my helplessness, idleness, indecision, and inadequacy in responding to the countless events that have shaken communities around the world…communities that feel simultaneously close and distant.

In situations like these, I was often brought back to an epiphany that I had back in 2014 during the midst of a medical treatment for my autoimmune disease called Lupus (SLE).

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Photo courtesy of Shane Sharma

On a cool autumn afternoon, I sat sluggishly in a hospital chair feeling dizzied, weak, and nauseous from the medication being pumped into my veins through an IV. I had another three hours to pass until my infusion was over. In a moment of optimism that morning, I packed my ukulele into my backpack. I figured that I could practice a few chords and look up songs that were simple to play. (Side note: it is not easy to play the ukulele with an IV in your hand). My eyelids grew heavy, but as my wonderful nurse walked into the room and saw my ukulele sitting on my lap, she gasped and asked:

“Ooh, is that a ukulele? Are you going to play us a song?”

My ears perked up and I laughed.

“Oh, I don’t know,” I said uneasily.

I fiddled with a few chords and settled on the song Lean on Me by Bill Withers. My voice was merely a whisper as I sang, my nervous strumming embarrassingly off tune. Before I could second-guess my decision to start playing this ridiculously happy-sounding instrument in a rather unfitting sombre environment, the friend of another patient sitting a few chairs down started harmonizing to my shaky voice.

Photo courtesy of Shane Sharma

And suddenly there was a blanket of calm in this stale hospital room, amidst hideous fluorescent lighting, noisy medical
equipment, and trays of boring peanut butter sandwiches.

It was all at once like a symphony of “me too”: a mellifluous reminder of connection, hope, and quiet togetherness…a heartwarming reminder that I wasn’t alone.

I was shocked to experience this moment of joy in the middle of a painful time in my life. Perhaps, I thought, joy and pain are not mutually exclusive as we make them out to be. Maybe we need to know pain to be introduced to joy, and vice versa.

Where there has been collective grieving, collapses of faith in humanity, and heartbreaking losses over the course of this year, there have also been active efforts to heal, infinite opportunities to display empathy and kindness, and movements to repair trust and rebuild hope.

This year, I was reminded yet again that the experiences that feel most isolating, painful, and personal are actually the ones that unite us.

I see this ring true as I look into the sparkling eyes of loved ones who have shown me tremendous support this year. I see this ring true in the unabashed laughter, tears, and surprisingly humorous conversations that I shared with each person I featured on As We Are.

The start of a new year doesn’t promise an end to old pain. It doesn’t mean that we can simply forget about the difficulties we faced and turn to a new chapter – because sometimes the ink bleeds through to the next page.

A new year, however, offers us an opportunity to practice resilience and challenge our habitual reactions to personal crises or worldly events.  A new year offers us a chance to appreciate the daily goodness that we discover in silent moments at home or while sitting in bustling hospital rooms. A new year offers us the possibility to find our own chorus of hope.

Thank you for following along my journey with As We Are. I look forward to sharing more learning moments with you in the new year!

Warmly,

Zoya
Founder of As We Are